Mar 13, 2002
By Ned Stafford
A new law designed to increase use of cheaper generic drugs in Germany has slammed into major opposition from physicians, prompting the Federal Health Ministry to fight back with an advertising campaign.
Viktor Szymczak, Health Ministry spokesman in Berlin, told Reuters Health Thursday that the goal of the 240,000-euro ad campaign is to inform and rally the masses in Germany to the benefits of the new law. Ads explaining the law will run in such outlets as weekly TV magazines and the daily Bild, a popular tabloid whose front page often is graced with color photos of topless women.
"There is a lack of information about the law," said Szymczak, adding that people who read Bild and TV magazines are "so-called normal people" who will benefit from lower drug prices.
Under the law, which took effect February 23rd, doctors are required to write the generic names of medicines on prescriptions, unless there is a valid reason to use a brand name. Pharmacists are then required to fill prescriptions with products in the lower third of the price range for a specific generic drug.
Health Minister Ulla Schmidt has said the new drug law would cut drug costs by 230 million euros in the first year. This would help to ease cost pressures on Germany's public health insurance system, which suffered a 2.8-billion-euro deficit in 2001 that triggered sharp increases in monthly premiums.
Various doctors groups have put up fierce political resistance to the generic drug law, saying that they--not pharmacists--should have ultimate authority of which product is used to fill a prescription. Supporters of the new law contend that doctors are opposed to the new law for personal financial reasons. They contend that some doctors receive gifts and excessive free drug samples from some drug companies, and that the new law would interfere with this cozy relationship.
The law is generally described in Germany with the Latin words "aut idem, or "the same." After the aut idem law was passed in early February, doctors groups called on members to boycott the new law by checking a box on each prescription that forces pharmacists to use the specific brand prescribed by doctors.
Stories in the German press this week indicate that many doctors have rallied to the cause and are participating in the boycott.
For example, one doctors group, the MEDI Verbund, ordered 3,500 ink pad stamps with the words: "kein aut idem," or "no aut idem." Doctors are to stamp the words on each prescription they write.
The action was taken because a checkbox on standard German prescription forms giving doctors the right to prescribe brand names apparently has led to some confusion, MEDI Verbund said. The first 3,500 stamps have sold out, and an additional 3,000 have been ordered to meet demand from disgruntled doctors, MEDI Verbund said.
The NAV-Virchow-Bund, an organization representing German doctors in private practice, issued a press statement this week saying the new law had caused "chaos." It called on members to bypass pharmacies and dispense drugs themselves.
Szymczak, the Health Ministry spokesman, said that despite opposition and some confusion about the new law, the ministry still strongly supports the law.
"We are absolutely confident aut idem will succeed," he said.
Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited